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Israeli Security Forces Storm West Bank Buildings in Raid Targeting Hamas

Israeli authorities said they detained 29 people in raids early Wednesday morning, including suspects “involved in funding and direction of Hamas branches overseas.”
April 15, 2015, 9:15pm
Photo by Adel Hana/AP

Israeli security forces stormed multiple buildings and homes in the northern West Bank city of Nablus early Wednesday morning, arresting dozens in raids that targeted the Palestinian organization Hamas.

According to eyewitness reports, more than 50 military vehicles were involved in the sweep. Israeli security forces said they detained 29 suspects, including high-ranking Hamas members and several individuals who had previously spent time in jail for terrorism-related offenses. Authorities also seized multiple cellphones and laptops, as well as 40,000 shekels ($10,000) in cash.

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"The arrests took place following an increase of Hamas activity in the Nablus area with the aim of carrying out terror activity against Israel," a statement released by the Israeli Defense Forces said. "The detainees that were involved in funding and direction of Hamas branches overseas were sent to the Shin Bet for interrogation."

As the Israelis made their raid, Palestinian security forces also detained three other suspected Hamas members in a separate operation. The Palestinian Authority (PA) arrested more than 100 Hamas activists — including journalists and students — last month, a move that Hamas called a "political crackdown."

Related: Israel's Other Religious War: The Ultra-Orthodox vs. the IDF

Hamas and the PA split in 2006 following a contested election, with Hamas now controlling the Gaza Strip and the PA governing the West Bank. The most recent attempt to reconcile the groups stalled over the payment of public sector wages for post-war reconstruction in Gaza.

Nablus, where the raid occurred, is in Area A of the West Bank, making it one of eight of cities designated by the 1993 Oslo Accords as being subject to the full control of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA did not respond to an inquiry from VICE News asking whether they were notified before the raid Wednesday morning, which involved hundreds of Israeli soldiers from multiple units.

Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), criticized the operation. "They [the Israelis] enter whenever they want, take whoever they want and don't ask anyone about it," Eid told VICE News. The very fact of entering Area A is a violation of the security coordination as a concept."

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Hamas spokesman Husam Badran said the arrests demonstrated Israel's worries over the "growing power of Hamas, despite years of crackdown campaigns."

A former Hamas activist detained in the PA sweep last month told VICE News that he believes the Israelis and the PA are working together against Hamas. "They have the same goal, so of course it is logical that they support each other's operations," said the 47-year-old, who asked to be identified as Abu-Jamal, his nickname. "Everyone knows this, it's common knowledge."

Related: Fallout in Gaza: Six Months On

Talking his about his time in detention, Abu-Jamal he said his captors treated him well but asked a lot of questions about what Palestinians think of the current political situation. "The PA are very anxious, very nervous, they feel that they don't have public support anymore," he said.

Last month, the PA threatened to end their longstanding security coordination arrangement with Israel after the Israelis withheld more than $500 million in tax revenue. Israel has since pledged to pay back the money, but the funds have not yet been returned in full. The PA said it is still considering its security arrangement with Israel, but a committee tasked with discussing with the issue said they had not met recently because "President [Mahmoud Abbas] isn't in the country."

Support for Hamas has risen in the West Bank, where elections have not been held since 2006. The latest monthly polls released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey [found](http://pcpsr.org/sites/default/files/poll 55 pressrelease English final.pdf) that if a presidential election were held now, 48 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and 47 percent for Abbas. However, the same survey also found that Hamas would finish a distance second if parliamentary elections were held in the territory.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem